How To Teach The Infinitive

But first, what’s an example without a non-example, really? When it comes to pedagogy, I’d call that partial information. Maybe you’ll know what to do after learning something, yet maybe it’s not clear what to avoid while also doing that thing. We can’t just stack practices upon practices and expect things to turn out well.

Typical Instruction (i.e. the non-example)
An introduction to the infinitive is usually taught by first focusing on the form “-re” with an incomplete, yet easy-to-test explanation (e.g. “the infinitive means ‘to X'”). Students are shown examples using different verbs (i.e. multiple meanings) in isolation, phrases, and/or short sentences. Then, students practice identifying infinitives, and changing verbs into their infinitive form. That’s basically it. The kids who memorize the “-re” form (while also not confusing it with the other…hundred?…forms that were taught by now) as well as verb meanings (i.e. the kids who have good memorize) are successful. One thing to note here is that the examples and practice sentences tend to lack meaning or purpose within a context. That is, even if there’s some continuity from sentence to sentence, the purpose is still identifying infinitives, not reading to find out what the messages are about. Stop doing all that. Here’s how to teach the infinitive…

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What CI Isn’t (reboot)

**Updated 5.1.2020 with CI is not immersion.**

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about misunderstandings I kept observing with the term “CI.” Since then, CI has not changed at all, of course, but my own use of it has. I now tend to avoid the term because it’s been misrepresented at best, and corrupted at worst. Whenever I can, I refer simply to “input” because in a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach, comprehension (C) is not only implied, but step zero. However, I think there’s a need once again for a reminder of what CI is not, as I’ve found non-examples to be just as helpful when it comes to explaining pedagogy.

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Ginput

No, this does not describe a juniper and coriander-based evening. Ginput is Grammar-based Input. Surprise! Yeah, I played this one pretty close to the vest this year. In fact, I began writing this post on June 13th—2019—knowing it would be months until actually implementing and seeing any results from what was last year’s springtime idea.

What’s Ginput?
The idea for Ginput came shortly after one of those frequent grammar debates online fizzled out. I still know that teaching grammar isn’t necessary, and I certainly won’t test grammar knowledge, but I also know that even really compelling things get boring throughout the year! I started wondering if grammar had a role to play, if only as a break from all the compelling stuff, especially since I had no plans to test or grade it. However, a question remained: “could grammar somehow be input-heavy?

The Search for Grammar-based Input
Providing CI while teaching grammar is rare, so I began to think…“But what if teaching grammar weren’t the entire syllabus?” and “Could I explore Latin grammar with students knowing that our curriculum is based on their interests (i.e. NOT grammar) under a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach?” I was certainly onto something, but needed a resource for guidance. Oh wait, I wrote one…

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Quīntus et nox horrifica Audiobook + 7 New Audio Albums

This is pretty spooky.

I teamed up with Michael Sintros (Duinneall) to create an audiobook accompanying Quintus’ scary night home alone, a personal favorite of my novellas. The ambient music makes for quite the cinematic experience when listening (with or without reading). Just like interactive sound effect reading in the classroom, this audiobook helps “play a movie in your mind” of what you’re listening to/reading—a true sign of comprehension. The music and effects could be straight out of a suspense film. In fact, listen to this at home, in the dark. I dare you! I can’t wait to get back to the classroom next year, set up chairs in a circle, turn off the lights, close the blinds, and recreate a bit of “campfire fright!” Until then, students can stream the audio at home…

Prologue Excerpt
Chapter 3 Excerpt
Chapter 4 Excerpt
Chapter 6 Excerpt

This audiobook is available on Bandcamp. If you’re not familiar with that site, it’s basically a donation-based way of musicians getting their music to fans. There’s a suggested cost, usually much lower than its value, so fans can choose to throw a few more dollars towards the musicians if they want to support them a bit more. One great feature is that you can stream the tracks a few times before Bandcamp gets sad. That means students can listen to this Latin without any cost to them whatsoever! Obviously, this is a helpful option right now during remote learning. Back in the classroom, though, you might want to have the albums downloaded so you always have them ready to queue up.

Alternatively, I can send USB thumbdrives with any (or all) of the audio on them. Find those on my Square site with discounts for packs and sets, here.

New Audio Albums
For a few years now, there have been three different kinds of audio albums available: an audiobook for Rūfus et arma ātra, a complete Latin learning course for Agrippīna: māter fortis, and rhythmic accompaniment to the poetry of Pīsō Ille Poētulus. Over the past weeks, I’ve added seven additional audio albums of a fourth kind: just narration. These albums give students the opportunity to hear Latin that’s not your voice, which we know is novel in itself. When used in the classroom, these albums can also give you a break, reserving your energy for questions, etc. That’s how I’ve been using the Rūfus et arma ātra Audiobook for the past few years, and will continue to do so with the new albums. Here’s a list of what’s available:

Using Audio
Audio resources have been catching on a bit more now that remote learning plans have been rolled out. However, there are other classroom uses as well. Here’s a short list:

  • Just listen!
  • Listen while reading along
  • Listen & Draw
    • a scene
    • a character
    • a mashup/smashdoodle/collage of the chapter
    • as evidence of understanding, learning activity, or both

Things I Don’t Do (That Many Teachers Do)

Technology
I haven’t asked students to take out a phone, computer, or interact with tech in over 6 years. Quite frankly, there are too many constant problems and disruptions right down to not having any battery life, and students are getting smacked in the face with tech the rest of the school day. I’m over wasting all that time. I, personally, use free web-based tools daily, like Google Docs, but there aren’t any laptop days, computer lab time, Kahoot, etc. Less is more!

Grade (especially at home)
I don’t really do this at all. Anything with a score is done as a whole-class, anything collected is marked as completed, and any rubric resulting in the course grade is self-assessed by students (I just check those afterwards).

Quiz/Test Prep
I don’t create any quizzes or tests. Any quick quiz in class is determined on the spot, is input-based, and is scored together, making it part of class. These are also collected and reported as evidence, but don’t impact a student’s grade. Instead, they’re used to show trends of understanding (e.g. a lot of 3s out of possible 4 means “most.” This could fulfill evidence for a rubric showing a course grade of an A that expects a student to understand “most” Latin).

Lesson Planning
Talk & Read covers everything students need. The rest is just rotating out weekly routines, and giving a new activity a try every now and then. The more variety a teacher has actually means the less experience they have with those activities! There’s a healthy limit to novelty. Don’t underestimate the power of simple practices.

Different Learning Targets/Objectives
I don’t create new ones specific to each day. Mine never change. The point/reason for/target/goal/objective/etc. of each class is that at least one of three communicative purposes (entertainment, learning, creating) is being met. So, I make sure there’s a reason for all that input & interaction during class, and keep things comprehensible. There’s actually no evidence that different objectives make any difference in student learning, let alone acquiring a language! In fact, if any measurement shows that learning has taken place after just one class/lesson based on an objective, don’t trust it! Delay testing, and give no advance warning. That will tell you what’s been learned and acquired, and what hasn’t.

Speaking The Target Language
If a student responds in English, that’s evidence they’ve comprehended. Case closed, folks! I don’t need to play mind games. There’s actually no legit reason for speaking the target language in class when everyone shares another language that’s easier to communicate in…unless one wants to. Some students want to. Others don’t. To recognize the classroom as any other context would be role-play (i.e. pretending you don’t speak another language). I don’t pretend. I do have systems in place to encourage target language use, as well as curb chatter and lengthy story-like responses in English, as well as stay focused on input, but naw, I don’t need to hear Latin to know students know Latin.

Corrective Feedback
C’mon, self-explanatory. The evidence is really piling up by now!

Grammar
I don’t expect students to develop any grammar knowledge. I certainly don’t test it. This is a liberating expectation! Grammar knowledge is unnecessary—in any language—and there’s enough to deal as it is with what’s actually necessary.

Homework
When working at a job, I don’t mess with anything that isn’t in my control. What goes on at home is completely out of my control as a teacher—no judgement—and I don’t need to punish and chase down students for not doing something that probably lacks a communicative purpose anyway. My only assignments involve reading, and no products are attached to that reading. **Just read.**

Projects
I don’t schedule any class time for projects. My experience is that most of the research and work is done in English, which is zero input, and most students get bored after a few of those summative presentations anyway. There needs to be input in the first place in order to make it more comprehensible, right?

From the looks of it, I bet it seems like I don’t do a friggin’ thing. But that’s not true. I spend most of the time creating personalized texts, adapting other texts, and seeking out constant PD—mostly grassroots, from teachers still teaching in the classroom, and who share the same *current* second language acquisition principles that I have. It’s a lot of work, actually, but focused, efficient, and enjoyable. Guess what? My students can read Latin. They even speak it. If that seems impossible—because teachers who do all those things above can have students who understand Latin, yet I do none and get the same results—there’s a magic ingredient. It’s actually the oldest source of success the spoken word has ever known:

Input.

We just have to tap into what all humans are hardwired for and prioritize CI, then the magic happens. Now, you might be a teacher who does, in fact, do all those things above, and likes doing them. Carry on. You might also be a teacher who likes some and not others. Unless you’re required—which might be in your control to change—know that you can drop the things you don’t like without any negative impact whatsoever. Try it.

I expect there might be questions. Let loose.

*THE* Time For Writing & Adapting Texts

In the COVID-19 scramble to replace classroom instruction, many teachers are tossing anything they can at students, often using materials someone else created. This might work out fine, but it also might not. Some of the texts are comprehensible. Some aren’t.

Of course, some students will do the enrichment work, and some won’t. That’s just our reality. Yet the K (constant) in all this is us. Teachers can use this time to hone their skills while also providing input—that students may or may not receive, which is completely out of our control (i.e. what used to be problems with homework is now the entire course content!)—ensuring more productive ways to spend our time…

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